Manchester Airport Group suffered an £208 million half-year plunge into the red as the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 ravaged the aviation industry.

Passenger numbers for the six months to September 30 fell 88.5% year-on-year to 4.2 million from 36.4 million.

The operator of Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports reported the “significant loss” against a pre-tax profit of £186.7 million in the same period in 2019.

In a breakdown of figures, the company revealed a 90.2% slump to 1.7 million passengers using Manchester airport in the period. Stansted saw a fall of 86.2% to 2.2 million with East Midlands down 90.3% to 300,000.

The airport operator described its response to the pandemic as “measured, strong and focussed on long-term recovery”.

All non-essential expenditure was frozen, staff took a 10% pay cut from April 2020 and the management team has been cut, resulting in 25% fewer leaders and back office roles.

Shareholders have provided £300 million of new equity, together with £340 million raised through the sale of a non-core property portfolio.

The company said it has led industry efforts to influence government policy so that the aviation industry can fly more people in the short term and recover strongly in the medium-to-long term.

It has helped government to introduce international travel corridors and then refine their application to consider islands separately from the mainland.

“MAG has called consistently for a testing regime that would allow arrivals from higher risk destinations to quarantine for a shorter period of time,” the firm added.

The new ‘test to release’ system from December 15 “includes many of the features of a unified proposal to the government that MAG brought the airport industry together behind earlier in the year,” the company added.

“Importantly, the government has also set out its ambition to keep refining the system and introducing faster and cheaper tests when it is safe to do so.”

MAG has introduced testing centres at its airports to allow travellers to book any tests that they need when arriving in the UK and for those looking to travel to other countries with pre-departure testing requirements.

Meanwhile, “robust plans and arrangements” have been put in place to prepare the business for the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1, “whatever the result of ongoing negotiations with Brussels”.

The airports operator added: “We have been trialling operational processes and ensuring they align with new post-Brexit rules and regulations – both in our terminals and around our cargo processing facilities. We are confident that operational disruption will be minimal.”

The figures came as the Committee on Climate Change told the government that there should be no increase in the UK’s airport capacity if emissions from flying are to be cut to net zero by 2050.

Aviation Environment Federation deputy director Cait Hewitt said: “The aviation sector has taken a huge hit from the Covid pandemic, but jobs per passenger had already been falling for many years.

“The government now needs to sharpen its focus on how to build the zero carbon industries – and jobs – of the future.”